Saturday, May 11, 2019

State Parks building a new tent campground on the San Juan River

The San Juan River at Simon Canyon below Navajo Dam - Spring 2019.
Campers will soon have a new place to pitch a tent on the banks of the San Juan River at Navajo Lake State Park.

“We’ve got some of the best fly-fishing in the Southwest and lots of visitors asking for tent sites so we’re excited to finally be able provide them some right on the river,” said Chris Smith, superintendent at Navajo Lake State Park.

The state park in northwestern New Mexico features the state’s top trout fishery in the river below Navajo Dam. The reservoir above is regarded by many as the state’s best smallmouth bass fishery.

The park saw over a half million visitors in fiscal year 2018 with about half of them visiting the five miles of river within the park, Smith said.

The park offers camp sites on the river at Cottonwood Campground where the availability of a dump station and full hookups of water and electricity at all 48 sites draws many visitors with travel trailers or motor homes.

But the persistent demand for tent sites resulted in plans to build a new “dry” campground on 66 acres of state owned land on the south side of the river just upstream of the Crusher Hole day use area.

Site of the new dry campground on Navajo Dam Lake State Park's Johnson Tract.
The new campground should be complete by 2021 and is slated to feature two vault toilets and 20 pull-through sites each with a shelter, campfire ring and picnic table. 

Native shade trees and other vegetation will be planted throughout the campground, Smith said. A new pump house and acequia has already been constructed on the site to draw water from the river for irrigation purposes.

Cost to construct the new campground is estimated at $1.1 million with much of the funding coming from a grant through the recently re-enacted federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling are earmarked for the fund which provides grants to purchase land for outdoor recreation and other public benefit.


The San Juan River has long been a top trout fishing destination for anglers due to a huge population of large trout of and many miles of public access.  The river’s draw brings in an estimated $30 to $40 million annually to the state’s economy with much of that generated from of out-of-state anglers, according to economic and other published studies.

Fisheries biologist Marc Wethington of the N.M. Dept. of Game & Fish shows off just one of the many beautiful trout that can found lurking in the waters on the San Juan River below Navajo Dam.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Good snowpack in 2019 should create great conditions for rafting, kayaking and canoeing

Photo courtesy of New Wave Rafting. 
With so much snow in the mountains this winter rafting guides and outfitters are expecting a great runoff season.

“It should be a banner year on the Rio Grande Box,” says Steve Miller, president of the New Mexico River Outfitters Association.

And that means it should be a great year to take a hair-raising, white-knuckle ride guaranteed to make you feel alive.

The “Box” runs through a deep, rocky gorge in the Río Grande del Norte National Monument between the John Dunn Bridge at Arroyo Hondo to the Taos Junction Bridge above Pilar.

It’s 16 miles of whitewater thrills and chills and one of northern New Mexico’s best outdoor adventures, Miller says.

Whitewater enthusiasts from around the country converge on the “Box” during high water years and this year is shaping up to be one of them.

Snow pack surveys by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service (USDA NCRS) show well above average levels in the mountains of southern Colorado and New Mexico. Visit https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/nm/home/for more detailed information.

When all that snowpack melts and flows downstream through the state’s rivers, creeks and streams it produces great conditions for rafters, kayakers and canoeists.

Those interested in the sport can get a taste of all the fun by booking a trip with an experienced outfitter through www.raftnewmexico.org, Miller says.

Miller, who operates New Wave Rafting out of Embudo, says there are many different kinds of rafting trips to enjoy on the Rio Grande.

Rio Grande's "Race Course."
There’s a fast, furious five-mile run featuring plenty of thrills that can be taken in the morning or afternoon on the “Race Course” between Quartzite and the County Line takeout.

Those more interested in sightseeing including wildlife can take a gentler, seven-mile float through the Orilla Verde Recreation Area between the Taos Junction Bridge and the Quartzite take out at Pilar.

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep at Pilar.
There are also backcountry trips on the Chama River and angling adventures as the season progresses through the summer, Miller notes.

Last year was one of the worst years on record for snowpack and the lack of runoff left many in the rafting industry struggling.

“We’re looking to rebound this year,” Miller says.

The great snowpack this year also should produce some much needed relief for many of the state’s reservoirs.

Reservoir levels monitored by the NCRS show many are at well below their average capacity and in need of replenishment.

The great winter snows combined with a good monsoon season this summer should go a long way towards reducing the drought conditions that have repeatedly plagued the state in recent years. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Historic lodge, cottages and cabins at Elephant Butte Lake make for a great getaway

The historic Dam Site Lodge at Elephant Butte Lake.
History, hot springs and fantastic fishing make a stay in the lodge or cabins at Elephant Butte’s Dam Site a great spring getaway.

“We absolutely loved staying here,” said Brenda Provins of LaPeer Michigan who spent six weeks with her husband staying in one of the Dam Site’s recently restored historic cottages. “It was a great vacation.”

Visitors to the Dam Site also can spend a night in one of eight well-appointed rooms within the historic lodge or rent one of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built rock cabins overlooking the lake formed behind the 
imposing dam.

A lodge room featuring artwork by Degrazia.
Neal Brown is president of Lago Rico Inc. which operates the Dam Site lodging and three marinas on the lake under license with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Brown and his crew of craftsmen have been restoring the Dam Site’s historic buildings since taking over the operation from New Mexico State Parks in 2015.


“It’s been a labor of love,” he says of his efforts to restore and improve the accommodations offered at the Dam Site. “But it’s worth it to preserve one of the prettiest places in the southwest.”

Visitors relaxing on the lodge’s veranda or a cabin porch are afforded a great view of the lake’s namesake, Elephant Butte.

Elephant Butte.
And it’s just a quick drive down the lake’s edge to fish for bass and other species, especially during the spring when angling conditions improve.

Above the lodge and cabins guests will find a park constructed by CCC workers featuring barbecue grills and shelters with even more great views of the lake.

Evidence of the CCC handiwork during the Great Depression can be seen everywhere at the Dam Site which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Statute honoring CCC workers.
The CCC was a Depression-era government program that provided unemployed men jobs and housing in work camps around the country. There are many such sites in New Mexico and for more information please visit the State Historian’s website at http://newmexicohistory.org/people/great-depression-and-new-deal-in-new-mexico-1929.

Guests at the Dam Site will find plenty to do in the area.

In the nearby town of Truth or Consequences visitors can bask in the waters from natural hot springs offered at several different establishments.

A private hot tub with a view overlooking the Rio Grande at Riverbend Hot Springs in Truth or Consequences. 
The town also boasts one of the state’s oldest and best steakhouses, plenty of great shopping and the Geronimo Springs Museum.

The nearby town of Elephant Butte caters to anglers and offers many different access points to the lake throughout the state park.

A drive around the surrounding countryside reveals miles of remote desert and expansive scenery in every direction.

Spaceport America in the desert outside of Elephant Butte Lake. 
The federal Bureau of Reclamation operates the dam and is pleased with the restoration work Brown is doing to the historic structures.

“He has taken on a lot of this work on his own, invested a lot and is doing a fantastic job there,” said Mary Carlson of the Public Affairs office of the federal Bureau of Reclamation in Albuquerque.

A restored CCC built cabin at the Dam Site.
Those interested in helping with the restoration cause need only rent a room at the lodge or a cabin or cottage. The Dam Site also offers campsites for recreational vehicles. For more information and reservations visit www.thedamsite.com.

Interior of a CCC built cabin under restoration at the Dam Site.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valles Caldera a Wonderful Winter Adventure


The winter is a great time to visit the Valles Caldera National Preserve especially when it's blanketed in a sea of gleaming snow.

“Anytime is a good time to visit the preserve,” says Kimberly DeVall, Chief of Interpretation and Education for the National Park Service’s preserve in the Jemez Mountains. “But when we have all this snow it’s really special, simply serene.”

The 89,000-acre preserve off N.M. 4 near the village of La Cueva between Jemez Springs and Los Alamos is a great place to go cross country skiing, snowshoeing or just sightseeing when winter delivers snowy weather.

And it’s made even better because the preserve isn’t charging its usual $25 entrance fee again this winter.

Those seeking the kind of quiet solitude only a wide expanse of snow-covered pasture and deep forest can provide will find just that at the preserve.


During a recent visit one could see people on skis and snowshoes dotting the huge snow-covered pasture formed by a collapsed volcano.

Inside the visitor center, found a couple miles off the highway, volunteers answered questions and handed out maps to guests while a stack of logs blazed away in the fireplace. The center offers snacks, beverages, books and gifts as well as snowshoe and ski pole rentals.


Visitors can ski or hike to the nearby “cabin district” where the park’s headquarters, employee housing and several rustic log cabins are nestled among the trees. Numerous movies and televisions shows have been shot at the Caldera including “Longmire” which features these iconic cabins.

A visit here provides the opportunity to listen to the breeze in the trees, enjoy the scent of pine in the cold crisp air and take in some spectacular views.


During warmer months visitors will find herds of elk, soaring bald eagles and other wildlife to view at the preserve. There’s plenty of wild brown and rainbow trout to fish for in several creeks and rivers as well as hiking, biking and other outdoor recreation to be enjoyed.

For more information about the Valles Caldera National Preserve please their website at https://www.nps.gov/vall/index.htm.

The preserve was formerly the private Baca Ranch purchased by the federal government in 2000. It was originally operated as a trust overseen by a board appointed by the president of the United States. Public use was very limited under the trust and the National Park Service was later chosen to take over its operation in October 2014.


DeVall, who worked with the original trust as a recreational program manager applied for and was hired to work for the incoming National Park Service administration. She has since helped implement changes to provide greater public access to the many outdoor recreational opportunities available at the preserve.

If You Go:

From Santa Fe head north on US84/285 to Pojoaque and take State Road 502 to White Rock and then follow State Road 4 up through the mountains and upon emerging into a great, open area look for the entrance to the preserve on your right, further down the road, about 65 miles. Make a round trip of it by continuing on State Road 4 through Jemez Springs and Jemez Pueblo to State Road 550 for a quick drive down to Bernalillo and then back up to Santa Fe on I-25. Great green chile cheeseburgers and cold beer can be had in a classic New Mexico bar, the Los Ojos, in Jemez Springs.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Ice Fishing at Fenton Lake


Fenton Lake in the Jemez Mountains is open for ice fishing this winter.

“It’s been really great,” says Manny Sanchez, manager of Fenton Lake State Park. “We’re well stocked and people are catching plenty of fish.”

The lake hasn’t been open to ice fishing for several years but this year’s winter storms and colder temperatures have produced ice thick enough to safely support anglers, Sanchez says.

The lake has been stocked with thousands of trout in recent weeks and the fishing has been reported good with meal/wax worms, salmon eggs, spoons or other baits and lures jigged off the bottom.

It remains to be seen how long the ice will hold up so it’s best to hit this lake sooner than later. Sanchez thinks the ice which is over a foot thick should last another three weeks or so.

“It’s not busy during the week so that’s a good time to come too,” he says. Weekends have been busy at the popular park that serves outdoor recreation enthusiasts from the Albuquerque, Los Alamos, Espanola and Santa Fe areas. 


To get started all an angler needs is an axe to chip through an already existing hole and a slotted kitchen spoon to keep it clear.

“There’s already hundreds of holes drilled out there,” Sanchez says.

Anglers venturing out onto the ice might want to wear strap-on cleats as it can be very slick going, Sanchez says.

Bring a sturdy plastic bucket to carry your gear in and then sit on. Dress warmly and in layers.

Adam Vigil, 7, of Taos shows how its done at Eagle Nest Lake back in 2008.
Other than that keep the wind at your back, the sun in your face and enjoy the fishing. 

The park has five camp sites with electricity available for $14 a night. Three are first come, first served and two can be reserved through the state parks reservation website at https://newmexicostateparks.reserveamerica.com/.

Anglers with a valid fishing license needn’t pay a $5 day use fee but will have to leave their vehicle in a lot by the park entrance and walk in.

Visit www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/ for more information about New Mexico State Parks including the latest information about conditions or call the park at (575) 829-3630. 

Fishing licenses bait and tackle and groceries can be purchased at Amanda’s country store in La Cueva. Visit www.jemezcentral.com for more information about visiting the area including fishing reports and local businesses. 

Other lakes open to ice fishing in northern New Mexico include Heron and Eagle Nest and Mundo on the Jicarilla Apache reservation. The Albuquerque area drains also provide good winter trout fishing.

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